Is Lake House Government property?

According to media reports, it appears that Mr. Lakshman Hulugalle and Minister Anura Yapa have some differences of opinion as to whether the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd. (popularly referred to as "Lake House") is government property or not, and whether its employees are bound by the rules which apply to state employees. The particulars given below should help the public to ascertain where the truth lies.

As far back as 12 September 2005, the Citizens' Movement for Good Governance (CIMOGG) issued a Press Release which set out the essential details of the Lake House takeover under the heading "Lake House Take-over and Broadbasing its Ownership". The facts given there are summarised briefly below. The original text may be accessed at www.cimogg-srilanka.org.

It was in the early 1970s that the United Left Front government led by Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike decided to take over Lake House and initiated steps to pass the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited Special Provisions Law No 28 of 1973 ("Law No 28"). The ULF government said that the purpose of Law No 28 was not to run Lake House as a state enterprise but to break the media monopoly held by one family. It was argued that the law would provide for only a temporary vesting of the shares in the Public Trustee and that, as soon as the law was passed, steps would be taken forthwith to broadbase the ownership.

Law No 28 provided for 75% of the shares to be taken over by the Public Trustee and the remaining 25% to be left with the original shareholders providing, however, that no single shareholder could hold more than 2%. Article 5 provided for the subsequent speedy divesting to the public of those shares which had been vested in the Public Trustee. However, thirty-five years have elapsed since the take-over and no government, whatever its hue, has carried out the divestiture required to be effected in terms of this law. All Parliamentarians belonging to successive governments as well as the opposition parties have contributed to this betrayal of the pledge given to the People. This blatant and deliberate deceit has been compounded further by the issuing of Lake House shares to state corporations instead of to the public. In such devious manner has Lake House has been kept under the rigid control of the government in order to enable the party in power for the time being to prostitute Lake House for its election purposes, and to disseminate propaganda and disinformation on a variety of subjects. The flagrant misuse of Lake House resources for party political advantage represents corruption of a high degree.

In 1995, the PA government appointed the Sidat Sri Nandalochana Committee to recommend a scheme to broadbase the ownership of Lake House. This Committee proposed that 20% of the shares be given to the employees, 15% to a trust to be drawn from the Organisation of Professional Associations (OPA), universities and similar institutions, and the balance shares to be sold on the stock market. However, no effort has been made to implement these proposals.

CIMOGG unreservedly condemns the continued flouting of Law No 28. It, therefore, calls upon all political parties to state unequivocally even at this late stage that they will press the government, whether from within or from the opposition, to implement the provisions of Law No 28, especially the sale of all state-held shares to the public, without any further delay.

As a corollary, we also urge the public to consider the stand of the political parties regarding the extent of their commitment to freedom of the press and other media, which are under increasingly grave threat as evidenced by the number of journalists who have been frightened into semi-silence or forced to leave the country or have been abducted or assaulted severely or even killed. Mr. Keith Noyahr is the latest in a long line of victims, which has brought us to the position of being considered the third most dangerous country in the world for journalists.

Dr. A. C. Visvalingam
Citizens' Movement for Good Governance

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